Welcome to my latest review. Previously published:
- Selmer Reference 54 alto vs. Yanagisawa A992
- Buffet 400 Series Professional alto saxophones
Note: Both horns were recently adjusted and both were played using a Lamberson Fmaj7 alto mouthpiece, and Superial #3 reeds.
King Zephyr: I've played a few of these before and have been impressed with their sound quality and sheer power. It wasn't the best looking horn, but it was in good condition pad-wise; very tight and the keywork didn't need any attention either. A heavy horn, solidly built and ready to go.
Martin Committee II: Purported by some as the "cream of the crop" for Martin alto's. These are reputed to have better intonation than "The Martin Alto" models and to have a warmer, creamy tone. This one was in great shape and needed nothing, just was tuned up and everything was sealing great. I was surprised the lacquer was in such good shape. This one was supposed to be a monster playing horn, so I had high expectations for it.
Winner: Edge to Martin Committee II
King Zephyr: For a vintage horn, not too shabby. It definitely wasn't the most comfortable horn, but you could get around on it. I felt the overall placement of the keys was odd for my hands, but the overall feel was very...how to put it....round? That explains it as best I can. Side-F...no high F# on these models and no reason to have one...make sure if you have one, it's set up by a very competent tech with previous experience.
Martin Committee II: Very impressive for a horn of this vintage. A very light action, but it actually had some pop to it and that was a refreshing change. The left pinky table was very manageable...much more so than the later "The Martin Alto" models. Palm keys are way low and you'll need risers, but most horns get that treatment anyway. With a few modifications, it can work quite nicely. I found I had to use the tips of my fingers a little more to get that "snap".
Winner: Martin Committee II
King Zephyr: You know, I thought this might have been one of the heaviest alto's I've tried...it was built to survive a bomb. All of the posts were in excellent condition and I didn't see any examples of sloppy solder nor poor plating. Overall a quality hand-made horn, not much else to say.
Martin Committee II: Not as solid feeling as the King Zephyr, but still a very well built horn. The lacquer that Martin used was terrible though, it wears very quickly even from slight use. That's why you see so many of these models relacquered, they simply look like hell in a while. Some people like this...I prefer a nice looking horn. The tone holes were in good shape...I like the idea on these but they should have used silver-solder on them...would make a much more sturdy and leak-free environment. I wish the lower stack keys were a little heavier and stiffer...not in feel but just in general. They seemed a little "fluffy" to me. I know you're loving these terms..."round", "fluffy"....sounds like I'm reviewing a marshmellow.
Winner: King Zephyr
Response - To me, response is how quickly the horn responds to your airstream for articulation, tone changes, and volume.
King Zephyr: Great response on the horn, responds quite quickly to your air stream and was a free-blowing horn. I found the top end to sizzle but it was a little squirrelly up there...you have to actually reign it in a little bit. But most of the horn just popped out with so much as a breath. Very clean, articulations were good but you have to be careful...too much air and you're likely to jump the octave. Talk about power. Holy metal, Batman....power, punch, and...wait, did I mention power? This horn can scream. I put a ton of air in my horns...and this one was taking it all in stride, no problems. Conversely, it seemed to close up a little when I wanted to play very softly. It still responded, but the sound seemed to drift a bit, a little stuffier. Not as clear.
Martin Committee II: An equally outstanding responsive quality from this horn. The sound wasn't as immediate; it has some resistance thrown in there. I think this is healthy for most horns. The range of volume was very, very good on this horn. At soft volumes its fat, full, and warm....push the horn and it will scream and shout with authority, still with that full, fat warmth up top. Low notes pop, altissimo rings (although you'll have to find your own fingerings for most).
Winner: Martin Committee II
King Zephyr: If there's any purported "weakness" to the King horns, it is intonation. However...I think some people may be crying wolf with these saxophones. I found the horn to play in tune rather easily. What you sacrifice for in "locked in intonation" is the flexibility to alter your tuning while you play. Upper register was a little wild, as mentioned before. With some practice, it shouldn't be difficult to bring it together. Most people just want the intonation to be there. I hear the phrase "spot on intonation" alot...and it really shouldn't apply to vintage horns. They weren't perfectly in tune for a reason....you needed to be able to be flexible with your tuning to play in a band. You can't always adjust your mouthpiece during a screaming big band section...these horns let you use some muscle and flex it! ( Terrible pun intended).
Martin Committee II: These are supposed to have the best intonation out of any Martin model...and I will definitely agree with this statement. After playing all the Martin models (including a very special "The Martin Alto" as my main horn for some time), this horn was much more consistent throughout the range of the horn. The center of the pitch was easy to find, but it still had the ability to be flexible. Upper register was surprisingly resonant and in tune. Lower end was a bit sharp but this tends to be fairly normal on most horns. Overall, a pleasant surprise.
Winner: Martin Committee II
Tone To me, tone is the general description of the sound produced by the instrument. Adjectives like bright, dark, warm, thin, edgy etc. can be used to describe tone. I also refer to the "eveness" of the tone...this is if the tone of the horn stays consistent throughout the ranges.
King Zephyr: If there is anything I can use to describe this sound, its: Oh yeahhhh....
Big, powerful, rich sonority that carries through any room. Just a huge voice...definitely bright, but very full, so it sounds fantastic. "Singing" is a very good term to describe the sound...you can get most anything out of this horn. ( Except for you Paul Desmond fans, you might want to avoid this one). Cannonball Adderly fans will enjoy these kind of horns. It's funny because the more you play the horn, the more you feel you want to keep pushing it...and pushing it...until finally you're at the maximum and you hear people screaming in the background because they think the Titanic just docked. Playing that low Bb with as much air as you can muster will undoubtedly advance global warming. Don't ask how; it just will.
Martin Committee II: Probably the complete opposite end of the bright/dark spectrum. This horn has a dark, rich, creamy tone, an excellent small group saxophone. Could get light and fluffy enough for the "Desmond" thing...but it had plenty of power behind it. I found this to have a similar volume capacity to the Zephyr. Not quite as loud...but really close. The Zephyr can be illegally loud whereas the Martin will be "damn that's loud" kind of loud. Make sense?
A bright mouthpiece would compliment this horn very well. I believe starting with a darker horn and using a brighter mouthpiece lends to a great mix of partials and this horn was no exception. Brighter Morgan Excaliburs and such would be a great fit to this old horn.
Winner: Slight edge to Zephyr
King Zephyr: You can find these for complete STEALS on Ebay and various other stores...most people don't know their true values as players horns. You just have to find one that works for you. There are many variances, and some later examples are said to be identical to King Super 20 horns...save a couple bucks and go this route if you need that horn. These are dogged for their intonation (not necessarily deserved) and poor ergonomics ( slightly deserved), but make up for it with their power and tone quality.
Martin Committee II: It's difficult to find these horns in good working order...these can also be had for good prices, although guys like Bob Ackerman have been drilling up the prices. They're solid, professional horns that can still be had for great prices....just have to shop around. Unfortunately, it's difficult to know for sure if any tone-hole work is needed, and most of these have usually been relacquered.
Winner: King Zephyr
Slight edge to Martin Committee II
I guess if someone was looking for "which is better", it'd be a tough choice. They each have their own merits, their strengths and weaknesses. I feel the Zephyr is a little more solidly built, and reflects a huge, bold sound. The Martin has more finesse and is darker, with a lighter key action. It all depends on what you prefer. I felt both were great saxophones and either one would suit just fine for the vintage jazz enthusiast. I think the Martin's upper register in tuning and the control it offers makes it just a hair bit more appealing.
As always, keep the comments/requests coming!
Previously: Selmer Reference 54 alto vs. Yanagisawa A992
Buffet 400 Series Professional alto saxophones